Inside Paul Ryan’s brain trust

Paul Ryan has been at the center of Washington politics for more than two decades, but his inner circle is small, close-knit and guarded.

With the Wisconsin Republican set to ascend to the Speaker’s office on Thursday, there’s been a scramble to identify Ryan’s closest friends in Congress and his most trusted advisers off Capitol Hill. 

{mosads}They’ll offer counsel to the 45-year-old presumptive Speaker as he seeks to unite his fractured conference and steer it through a raft of tricky legislative issues in a year when GOP presidential hopefuls are running hard against Washington.

His wife, Janna, a former Hill staffer and lobbyist, is probably his most trusted counselor; she played a key role in Ryan’s deliberations this month over whether to leave his dream job as Ways and Means Committee chairman and take a leadership post he claims he never wanted in the first place.

On Sunday, Ryan made his first official move as incoming Speaker, tapping Washington lobbyist and Hill leadership veteran David Hoppe as his chief of staff. 

The self-described policy wonk is expected to fill out his team in the coming days, bringing on staffers from the Ways and Means Committee and Ryan’s congressional office, as well as other friends and allies he’s worked with since arriving in Washington as a lowly aide in 1992.

“He’ll be strong on policy, but who can he bring in to work the politics of the conference?” asked a senior House GOP aide. “Hoppe is a good first step, but he will need a lot more operators to be successful.”



Many nights, outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) — the merlot-sipping, cigarette-smoking Speaker for nearly the past five years — could be found at the Barracks Row mainstay Trattoria Alberto with his close lawmaker buddies, former Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), former Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). 

But Ryan doesn’t regularly appear around town with the same crew. Instead, the Ways and Means Committee chairman counts several fellow chairmen — in particular, Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) — as among his closest colleagues on the Hill.

Price was Ryan’s deputy when the latter was Budget Committee chairman — a period when Ryan authored several GOP fiscal blueprints that called for trillions in spending cuts and controversial reforms to Medicare.

Earlier this month, Ryan endorsed Price over Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) in the majority leader’s race. That race was called off after Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) unexpectedly bowed out of the race for Speaker, but Scalise and McMorris Rodgers will now be two of Ryan’s top lieutenants. 

Ryan is also close to two of his Badger State GOP colleagues, former Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner and Rep. Sean Duffy, a former state prosecutor and reality TV star.

GOP Reps. Kevin Brady (Texas), Devin Nunes (Calif.) and Pat Tiberi (Ohio) are vying to replace Ryan as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means panel. But Ryan is a close friend of all three men, making it tough for him to endorse in the race for one of the most prized gavels.

“Paul Ryan is viewed as a fair, even-handed person,” said Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who dropped his own bid for Speaker after Ryan jumped in the race. “He doesn’t have some mysterious go-to group. I believe he will lean on the committees and the process will be better for it.”


Capitol Hill staffers

Ryan’s pick for chief of staff, Squire Patton Boggs lobbyist David Hoppe, was well received around Washington. A top aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Hoppe would become the first person in modern history to serve as chief of staff to both the top leader in the House and the Senate.

“Dave is wise, so people should have confidence in his judgment,” said former Senate GOP Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), for whom Hoppe also served as chief of staff. 

None of the other posts in the Speaker’s office are firmed up. But another longtime confidante, Joyce Meyer, the Ways and Means staff director who has been with Ryan since he was elected to Congress in 1998, may take a role as Ryan’s liaison to House members, said a GOP source. Like Hoppe, Meyer also hails from Wisconsin, as does Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, a close friend of Ryan’s.

Other top Ryan aides include Andrew Speth, chief of staff to his congressional office and an Iraq War veteran, and Kevin Seifert, a former Ryan campaign manager and spokesman who’s now the nine-term congressman’s D.C. office chief of staff.

Ways and Means Communications Director Brendan Buck, a former Boehner press secretary, is well positioned to lead Ryan’s communications operation. He connected with Ryan in 2012, serving as his press secretary after Mitt Romney tapped Ryan as his running mate.

Other Ryan aides include Matt Hoffmann, Ryan’s health staff director who also has Romney connections; Ted McCann, who specializes on entitlements and graduated from Ryan’s alma mater, Miami University of Ohio; and Austin Smythe, described as a “budget guru” who just last week was tasked with briefing chiefs of staff about the reconciliation process and why a full ObamaCare repeal could not be done. 

Off the Hill, Ryan often seeks advice from Dan Senor, a foreign policy adviser to the Romney/Ryan campaign; Yuval Levin, the conservative founding editor of National Affairs; and Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center.


K Street

While Ryan has logged 17 years as the representative of Wisconsin’s 1st District, there are only three former Ryan aides who have become registered lobbyists — Paul Eiting at America’s Health Insurance Plans; Peter Fotos of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America; and Brendon Weiss, an in-house lobbyist for Intercontinental Exchange, Inc.

The Midwestern lawmaker’s closest friendships on K Street, however, date back decades.

In 1995, Ryan served as a legislative director for Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback (R), who has gone on to become governor of the state. Many of his associates date back to those days, including Brownback’s former chief of staff, Tim McGivern, who is now at Ogilvy Government Relations. 

Former Brownback aide Howard Waltzman, a partner at Mayer Brown; Goldman Sachs in-house lobbyist Michael ThompsonDaniel Mattoon, former deputy chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee; and former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.) are other trusted friends on K Street.

  Others who have worked closely with Ryan include Stephen Pinkos at American Continental Group; Brett Loper, a former Boehner aide now at American Express; Darren Willcox at W Strategies; Brian Conklin, an in-house lobbyist at insurance company USAA; and Rob Collins and Mike Ference at S-3 Group, both of whom worked for former Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.). 

Before Congress, Ryan had served as an aide at the conservative think tank Empower America, whose co-founders William Bennett and the late Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) became two of Ryan’s most important early mentors. 

Bennett, former President Ronald Reagan’s Education secretary, appeared on stage with Ryan last year at Reagan’s Presidential Library as Ryan promoted his new book, “The Way Forward.” 

Empower America later morphed into the Tea Party-aligned FreedomWorks.

Tags Boehner Cathy McMorris Rodgers Eric Cantor Jason Chaffetz Jim Sensenbrenner John Boehner Kevin Brady Paul Ryan Richard Burr Saxby Chambliss Sean Duffy

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